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Groundhog Day Forecasts and Climate History

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Every February 2, a crowd of thousands gathers at Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to await a special forecast from a groundhog named Phil. If the 20-pound groundhog emerges and sees his shadow, the United States can expect six more weeks of winter weather according to legend. But, if Phil doesn’t see his shadow, we can expect warmer temperatures and the arrival of an early spring.

Even though he’s been forecasting since 1887, Phil’s track record for the entire country isn’t perfect. To determine just how accurate he is, we’ve compared U.S. national temperatures with Phil’s forecasts. On average, Phil has gotten it right 50% of the time over the past 10 years.

Phil’s 2016 Forecast

In 2016, Phil hit the mark when he didn’t see his shadow and predicted that spring had sprung. The contiguous United States saw above average temperatures in both February and March of last year. The Midwest and Northeast along with the western half of the Lower 48 saw above-average February temperatures. But, the Southeast saw near-average February temperatures. Overall, 21 states were much warmer than average during the month.

In March, every state in the contiguous United States saw above average temperatures. Parts of the Rocky Mountains, Central and Northern Plains, Midwest, and the East Coast were all much warmer than average during the month. Overall, the month ranked as the fourth warmest March for the Lower 48 in our 122-year period of record. It was also the warmest since 2012.

Phil’s First Forecast

In 1887, when he made his debut as the official groundhog forecaster for the entire country, Phil saw his shadow. His first prediction of six more weeks of winter was accurate for a few regions, but it came up short for several others.

According to the February 1887 Monthly Weather Review Form, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, and West saw temperatures well below normal. The Southeast and Gulf states saw temperatures well above normal during the month. And, according to the March 1887 Monthly Weather Review Form, the Northeast, Great Lakes region, Ohio Valley, and Southeast saw temperatures well below normal. Areas west of the Mississippi River valley saw temperatures above normal.

Predicting the Arrival of Spring Is Difficult

Predicting the arrival of spring for an entire country, especially one with such varied regional climates as the United States, isn’t easy! To learn more about how Punxsutawney Phil’s forecasts have compared to U.S. national temperatures since 1988, visit our Groundhog Day page.

Interested in doing your own analysis? Check out our Climate at a Glance tool to access historical U.S. monthly temperature data. More of Phil’s past predictions are also available from the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Infographic depicting Punxsutawney Phil’s Groundhog Day forecasts and their accuracy for the past 10 years

For an overview of some fun facts about Groundhog Day and the accuracy of these furry forecasters, check out our infographic.

To see the latest climate outlooks, visit NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center. For the current weather forecast in your area, check out your local National Weather Service forecast office.